By all rights, I should really enjoy FOX’s new comedy “Breaking In,” which debuts tonight at 9:30 after “American Idol.”
The series, about a company that specializes in trying to rob its own clients to identify security flaws, stars Bret Harrison, whom I liked a lot playing a similar role on the CW’s “Reaper” and a previous FOX workplace comedy, “The Loop.” It has Christian Slater, as Harrison’s manipulative boss, having embraced the Jack Nicholson mannerisms that have typified his most entertaining performances. There are tons of nerd and pop culture references, from Slater’s character having Captain Kirk’s chair from “Star Trek” in his office to one of Harrison’s new colleagues showing up to work dressed as Han Solo.
In other words, “Breaking In” feels like a show that should be perfectly suited to my tastes, except for one problem:
It’s not funny.
I’ve seen two episodes of the show, and I’m not sure I laughed out loud even once at either one. It’s not painful – there are likable actors and the office setting is loose and fun – but none of the jokes land, at all.
This has been a strange and disappointing spring for comedies like this – shows that should be good but seem to have suffered a humor-ectomy – including CBS’ “Mad Love” (featuring Harrison’s old “Reaper” co-star Tyler Labine) and ABC’s “Mr. Sunshine.” I would say that “Breaking In” falls in between those two, as it’s far less overbearing than “Mad Love” quickly became but doesn’t provide the laughs that “Mr. Sunshine” has been able to produce on occasion. (It also lacks the instantly-catchy, brilliantly concise “Mr. Sunshine” theme song.)
So why doesn’t “Breaking In” work, despite a bunch of solid components? Well, it almost feels like the creative team – including writer Adam F. Goldberg and director Seth Gordon (“King of Kong”) – assembled the pieces and called it a day.
Harrison is playing almost the exact same flustered young professional with the boss from Hell- in the case of “Reaper,” where Ray Wise played Satan himself, it was literal – that he did on his two previous shows. The new show even gives him his third unrequited crush in a row on an attractive brunette, in this case Odette Annable (formerly Odette Yustman), playing the team’s expert safecracker. (And as with Missy Peregrym on “Reaper” and Amanda Loncar on “The Loop,” Annable isn’t asked to do much more than look attractive – in one episode, she puts on a black rubber suit because the plot conveniently demands it – and act oblivious to Harrison’s obvious crush.) It’s a part that Harrison could play on auto-pilot by now, and it feels like it was written that way.
Similarly, all the geek culture references seem mainly there because it’s expected. There aren’t usually jokes built around them – it’s just namechecking for the sake of pandering to a specific demographic.
So Harrison runs around a lot, terrified of the next mindgame Slater’s going to play on him, or the next prank McAuley will pull on him, or the next appearance by Annable’s obnoxious boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum from “Smallville”). And if there aren’t many laughs, at least the pace is quick.
With the previous two not-quite-there spring comedies, I said in my initial review that I hoped the talent involved would eventually lead to better comedy; with “Mad Love,” that never happened, while “Mr. Sunshine” tends to go back and forth. I have no idea if “Breaking In” has another gear in it, or if the show is what it’s always going to be. But with “Idol” as a lead-in, it should get to stick around long enough to either find itself or stop trying.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org